Muhammad Ali and the Most Expensive Book
One of the questions many new booksellers have as they are learning the ins and outs at a bookstore, is, “what is the most expensive book you’ve ever seen?” All of the seasoned employees take a stab, usually naming overpriced coffee table books that get shipped to us for Christmas but I’ve always been the one who has touched the most expensive title. By a landslide.
Throughout the years at Barnes & Noble, we booksellers would often go into a tizzy about a “special edition” of a TC (Trade Cover a.k.a., Hardback) that would cost a ridiculous amount of money. At least to a bookworm. Bookworms are not necessarily collectors. We want the story and this story can be packaged roughly. Booksellers are known to dumpster dive for “stripped books” just because we want to read them, not stare at them on the shelf. Stripped books are MM’s (Mass Market, small paperback) that did not sell or were given the heave ho by the publisher. We’re told to tear off the cover and send it to the publisher as if it’s cash but the meat and potatoes are thrown away. You can imagine how this makes a good bookseller feel.
Anyhow, not making a whole lot of money, it’s not as if we can afford such extravagant versions of our favorite books such as the $50 version of a Neil Gaiman TC. The public usually feels the same way and the pricey novel ends up in Book Heaven (Bargain or Clearance) or is sent back to the publisher.
In the early 2000’s, my boss came rushing up to us one morning, before we opened, wanting us to know that a very special book was in the store and that we had to guard it with our lives. Her words, not mine. All I saw was the word, GOAT, on the cover of the plain white box and assumed that this $1,000 plastic wrapped, coffee table sized book was everything one would need to know about raising goats. After a few goat jokes and putting on janitor gloves (handed to us by my boss) we were allowed to poke at the book and see that it was about Muhammad Ali. In my ignorance, I was still asking co-workers about the title (did the boxer raise goats? Love goats?) until a nice customer whispered to me that it means, “Greatest of all Time”.
It arrived with wooden pedestals and it also came with it’s own fancy cardboard box.
Everyone wondered which customer was going to be the one to buy this. Who would they be? I only knew one thing. That despite my boss’s best efforts, as with any expensive item in our store, it would probably be stolen within a week.
For that much money, you’d think that was real gold.
I’m not sure if it upset my boss or was a relief to her, but it wasn’t long before corporate made us return our GOAT back to the publisher. Apparently, sending copies to stores had been a mistake. My theory is that enough were getting stolen to justify a recall. I’ve always been happy to know that I put my hands on the most expensive book in any Ohio bookstore.
Our store copy was nothing compared to the numbered/limited edition that was “prepaid order only” in our system. This meant that a customer couldn’t just order the book to flip through it. You had to put the money down first and in those days, that was incredibly rare. This version of GOAT was $6,000. It came with a real silk covering and was signed by the boxer himself. The publisher is Taschen and they publish some of the most beautiful art books in the world. I’ve purchased many of the reasonably priced ones over the years but it’s not uncommon to see a $15,000 book on their website.
Now that Mr. Ali has sadly passed, I wonder what is going to become of those 10,000 copies of GOAT. For that price, it looks like there are plenty of them left, even thirteen years later.